children look through binoculars out a window

2020 Report to the Community

July 1, 2019–June 30, 2020

Dear Friends:

Everyone has felt the challenges of 2020. We have been thinking about you and your loved ones with warm wishes for your health and safety.

It is not lost on us that coronavirus—an issue rooted in natural history—deeply affected the state’s natural history museum, our state, and our planet. Now more than ever, we need museums like the Bell to educate and inspire the public about science, to make sense of our world, and to remind us all of nature’s beauty and restorative characteristics.

The pandemic has had negative effects on the museum’s operations, but our talented and creative staff continues to fulfill our mission in new and inventive ways. Whether delivering hands-on STEAM education kits to families through valued community partners, bringing the museum into your home through an array of online programming, or preparing to safely reopen the museum (reopened in mid-July!), the Bell has been steadfast in its service to Minnesota.

We have also recommitted ourselves to being a Museum without Boundaries—one that provides equitable access to the museum’s resources. Introspection about our role in addressing societal inequities is taking place throughout the museum—including with our staff, curators, and advisory board members. Examining and, when needed, changing our practices and strategies has taken on new meaning and urgency. We are committed to leveling the playing field and making sure natural history is truly welcoming and accessible for everyone.

We so appreciate your support and encouragement over the last year. Because of you, the Bell Museum remains strong even in these trying times. We invite you to participate in the museum’s varied activities—onsite and online—throughout the coming year.

With gratitude,

Denise Young headshot
Denise Young's signature
Denise Young, Ed.D.
Executive Director, Bell Museum
College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences
University of Minnesota

Brian Buhr headshot
Brian Buhr's signature
Brian Buhr, Ph.D.
Dean, College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences
University of Minnesota

two photos: one of a child observing a cloud-creation experiment, the second of a tour group listening about a diorama at the Bell

Facing Change

In 2019, the Bell Museum was selected as one of 51 museums to participate in the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) Facing Change: Advancing Museum Board Diversity and Inclusion initiative. This three-year initiative is supported generously by $4 million in grant funding to AAM, which will provide a path forward for museums to build and maintain inclusive cultures and reflect the voices that diverse communities represent.

The Bell Museum joins nine other arts, science and culture institutions in the Twin Cities as part of Facing Change. Over the past year, the Bell Museum staff and board have participated in individual and group learning sessions that will impact how the museum operates now and into the future.

As the Bell Museum prepares for our 150th anniversary in 2022, we find it critical to take the time to ensure our foundation is truly grounded in the community we serve.

The museum’s success ultimately depends on education programs and learning experiences that embrace and speak to Minnesota’s diversity of cultural communities. The Facing Change initiative is helping us accomplish that goal by enriching our conversations, planning, and strategic actions so that our Board becomes a rich community of voices that reflects this diversity and better positions us to support and guide the Bell’s mission.
– Lee Pfannmuller, Bell Museum Advisory Board Chair

two photos: one of a student researcher looking through a microscope. The other of George Weiblen and a researcher in the field

Bell Curators Collaborate in the Field

Collections and research are the heart of the Bell Museum. The Bell’s eight curators hold faculty positions in the College of Biological Sciences and the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Research Sciences. In their dual roles, they teach the next generation of natural scientists and oversee the Bell Museum’s collections of more than 1.2 million specimens, ensuring that this robust collection is accessible to the public and also continues to grow.

In 2019, Bell Museum curators embarked on the creation of a baseline biodiversity survey to document plant and animal species on six U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recreation areas, with a particular focus on locating species of conservation concern.

This ongoing study was the first to bring all curators together to collaborate in their field research. This collaboration also provided an opportunity to engage University of Minnesota graduate students in field collections and observations in some of Minnesota’s most treasured natural resources and ecosystems.

To date, researchers have made 2,051 plant and animal observations and uncovered 674 species.

Bell Financial Overview

graphs of revenue and expenses. Revenue: 34% University/State Support $2,951,080; 6% Sponsored Projects $486,056; 4% Membership $326,176; 3% Other Revenue $228,963; 5% Endowment Draw $417,987; 16% Earned Income $1,393, 649; 32% Philanthropy $2,786,600; Total Revenue $8,590,511. Expenses: 71% Programs $5,077,856; 6% Exhibits & Technology Replacement $393,500; 5% Fundraising $338,298; 4% Administration $299,023; 14% Research and Collections $987,249; Total Expenses $7,095,926

The Bell Museum’s Fiscal Year 2020 was unique. Between March 13–June 30, the Bell Museum lost a projected $988,401 in earned income due to COVID-19. Through intentional reductions and delays in expenditures, along with generous support from corporate, foundation, and individual donors, the Bell closed the year in a favorable financial position.

Donor Appreciation

Click here for our FY2020 donor roster.

Bell Museum is proud to recognize the philanthropic investments made by individuals, corporations, and private foundations received between July 1, 2019–June 30, 2020. We have made every effort to ensure that the names of donors are accurate. This list includes donors making gifts of $1,000+. Donors making gifts of $250+ are recognized on the digital Report to the Community, available on our website. If you have questions about your gift, please contact Hannah Baines at or 612-626-2673.

We appreciate the Bell Museum developing this creative approach to the challenges posed by distance learning and the academic achievement gaps that disproportionately affect our low income communities and students of color.
– Boston Scientific
Decades ago, some wise and wonderful person offered this suggestion: “If you really want to change the world, then find some small piece of it that you can get your arms around.” We’ve taken that advice to heart. After all, doesn’t everyone need something bigger than themselves in which to believe?
– Jake and Nan Beard, Bell Museum donors

Milestone Moments

Explore through the gallery to see what we’ve been up to this year!